The Judgement of Paris

Gore Vidal, 1952

Carroll & Graf – 2007

A very contextual book; set in the period directly after the Second World War The Judgement of Paris deals with a world and a man coming to terms with their own horror. That the book is based allegorically around the Greek myth of Paris was loosely apparent throughout the text but does not seem to add much to the story itself. The main character Philip is a young man who sets out on a quest of self-enlightenment in a Europe still struggling to find some correlation between the dawn of the day after the war and that which came before it. The various themes of self-discovery and spiritual inquiry are often forced upon the reader with a jarring effect, when it seems as though the characters are less inclined to a discussion amongst themselves than detached lecturing towards us personally. These episodes, whilst theoretically interesting were the least effective in obtaining a sense of sympathy with the characters, the plot or the book itself. Vidal’s evocation of love and passion on the other hand did manager to reach heights of mythical proportions and leave us feeling as though we had stepped onto the last edge of the world:

“Three miles of Saint Malo they stopped and got out of the car. In the distance, partly hidden by the sea mist, they could make out the pyramidal shape of the ancient castle, set far out in the sea. Half a mile away was a stone cottage with a thatched roof, the only building in sight. The land undulated, soft and green, white-dotted with rocks and grazing sheep. The clover-scented air was still and warm as they stood by the side of the car, looking out upon the dark blue sea which broke on a dun-coloured, rock-strewn beach at the meadow’s edge.” P.285

Something about the point at which a meadow full of sheep meets the sea conjures an image of infinite desolation. All has been forgotten apart from these two people strewn across the last frontier of the planet: a lost place reckoning back to a disappeared history of Kings. Vidal offers us a glimpse of a place where Paris’ great myth must have begun.



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